Category Archives: Aleph Books

Interview with Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik

Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik and Modern Management infused with Mythological concepts seem to go hand in hand. He has always been at the forefront of exploring and breaking paradigms when it comes to looking at Mythology in the country or for that matter Management as well. With his new book, “Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management” he shatters all myths and at the same time urges you to look at management from a different perspective. The Indian perspective which cannot work sometimes on Western ideologies given the vast difference between Eastern and Western philosophies. Keeping this in mind, I decided to interview him and this is the result of that interaction.

Business Sutra by Devdutt Pattanaik

1. Myth and Management. How did you think of connecting the two?

Myth is subjective truth. Management is about people. Every person has a subjective truth. So connecting the two made sense. Of course, if you think of myth as something to do with fantasy and religion then this connection seems incredible. Myths of the world are maps of the human mind; they reveal how different cultures approach life. Reading them helps us understand different societies.

People are slowly realizing that management has long ignored the culture lever making it rather

2. Modern concepts of Management do not seem to recognize Mythology and its importance. How do you tackle this in your role as a Chief Belief Officer?

Modern management is based on science and mathematics. So it is assumed to be rational and universal. Only an outsider knows that it is steeped in Western thought, which is strongly shaped by Greek mythology and biblical mythology, something the West will vehemently deny. You see, the fish never sees the water. The bird does. As someone who has been studying mythology for years, this was so obvious. When I mapped it to business, I realized all the problems of business could be traced to this mythical root. When I presented it to business leaders, the ones who always sensed the difference intuitively loved my work. Then at the 2009 TED conference, the popularity of my talk indicated that everyone in the world sensed the relationship of culture and management principles, hence the exclusion of non-western cultural ideas.

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3. What was the motivation behind “Business Sutra”?

Modern Management follows the biblical paradigm of defining the Promised Land (target) and moving towards it by following Commandments (tasks) or the Greek paradigm of challenging authority and forging a new path as hero (innovation and leadership). I wondered what Indian mythology would reveal. And I saw a whole different approach to targets, tasks, innovation and leadership.

4. This book is very different from your other works. How much did the book take from you and in what sense?

This was tough as it meant making a journey from Western management to Western mythology to Indian mythology to Indian management. I had to explain basics of management to those familiar with mythology and basics of mythology to those familiar with management. Mythology was especially tough as most books on the subject are written by European and American writers whose understanding of the subject is rather poor because of the Western linear bias.

5. You have almost created a niche audience for mythological books. How do you think they are accepting a book about looking at Indian Management differently?

I have a good readership in Management because of my columns in Corporate Dossier (Economic Times) and my CNBC-TV18 show, Business Sutra.

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6. “Business Sutra” breaks barriers all the time. Almost breaking paradigms. Was this intentional to the writing of the book? How did the book structure come along?

Well I did not seek to break barriers. I just wanted to draw attention to the incompleteness of current scholarship in matters related to management. Management today assumes that the military model followed by the Roman army and Jesuit missionaries is the ‘right way’ to do things. That sounds scary. At the heart of it seems to be about conquest (read growth) and domination (read leadership).

Something does not feel right about its spirit. Is an alternative discourse allowed? We want to propagate violent worldviews and there is a trend to dismiss alternate worldview as unrealistic and exotic. That is not healthy and not very wise either.

Structuring the book was very tough as I had to explain the meaning of belief, connect belief with mythology and then business, draw attention to Western mythology whose existence is for all intent and purposes denied, and then show how it was different from Indian mythology. One then had to enter the new world of Kama, Yama, Indra, Vishnu, Shiva and Daksha, and of Laskhmi, Saraswati and Durga. While most readers are sort of familiar with many of the words/ideas of the book, they do not either all the words, or understand it in depth. So there were challenges at every level.

6. Devdutt, the writer…

Writes every day for 2-3 hours…weeps at how little or how badly he has written….and struggles to make his ideas understood.

7. Devdutt, the Chief Belief Officer. How does he make sense of madness at the workplace? Where do the sutras then begin to show the way and how?

The workplace is not mad. We sign a contract which is essentially voluntarily domestication. For a payslip we do what we are told to do. But as humans we yearn for visibility; the organization is unfortunately not interested in our intelligence, only our obedience and our performance. So we feel invisible, restrained, frustrated and angry. We yearn for freedom and when that is not forthcoming, we
bitch about the organization, or indulge in politics, in order to feel special and powerful.

The sutras of the book aim to widen the gaze of the reader, understand what is actually happening at the workplace, the invisible currencies that are being exchanged. It is not just about target, tasks, rules and wealth, it is also about power and identity, something we rarely connect with the business world.

A workspace can become a battleground, if we don’t see what is happening beneath the superficial behaviour. Or, it has the potential to become a playground, where each one of us is growing as we do our tasks and reach our targets.

8. When does management begin and when does it take over what we have grown up with and believed all along?

Management today expects humans to give up all values they have at home and adopt new values in the office. This sounds bizarre but that seems to be trend. The assumption is that we have to articulate values; else we are value-less. We live in an age of political correctness where we have to say and do the right thing, whether we believe in it or not. This schizophrenic approach to work and life is supposed to make us more efficient, but it does not. It fractures us and the fault lines have started to show across organizations, industries and societies.

9. What is next on the cards?

I never interview and tell….:-) but we do have 330 million gods to write about and many more business practices to explore.

And thus ended, the fascinating talk with Dr. Pattanaik. It was truly a fantastic experience for me.

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Book Review: Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management by Devdutt Pattanaik

Business Sutra by Devdutt Pattanaik Title: Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Aleph Books
ISBN: 978-81-923280-7-2
Genre: Non-Fiction, Management, Mythology
Pages: 437
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When you think of mythology and management, it becomes very difficult to connect the two. Doesn’t it? I am sure anyone would think it is impossible or close to being impossible, however that isn’t the case for Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik, who when speaks of mythology, does not consider it any different from daily living. He doesn’t categorize or compartmentalize the concept at all. When Dr. Pattanaik writes or talk of mythology, he weaves it seamlessly into what we call living. He doesn’t treat it any different and may be that is the reason why we get his writing the way we do. It is simplistic and at the same time given the expertise, doesn’t come across as overbearing.

His new book, “Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management” aims at breaking all myths and vague ideas people have had about management in our country. He takes almost each concept one by one and bares it to its minimum, thereby rationally explaining to the reader, what works and what doesn’t and may be what could work. The book has structure and at the same time tells its readers to break all structures and forms of thinking, thereby learning to create new approaches, new Indian Approaches to Management, which we have probably been ignoring for a very long time.

“Business Sutra” is a difficult and yet an illuminating read. Dr. Pattanaik takes the reader through a chronological journey of his perception of management. The introduction of the book in itself is of twenty five pages, describing the need for such a book. He speaks of the design of the book and how he has tried to connect management to mythology and how it may work for some and may not work for others. At the same time, what I love about the book is that it isn’t preachy nor does it sound imposing.

The book is divided into three major sections, each section unraveling a different world for the reader. The book helps the reader read through structurally from decoding business beliefs of the Indian, the Chinese and the Western World to talking about the sutras of management and how they co-exist with mythology in the background. There are close to more than one hundred sutras and all aim at defining only one thing: To change the approach to management and at the same time talk of its connection to our roots through what is closest to our hearts and what we can connect with: Myths and Legends.

The wide gamut of the book sometimes would make the reader read it in bits and parts and that to me is the best way to enjoy this book as well. The references are way too many and that is what I enjoyed the most about the book – right from case studies which I could relate to from a working professional angle to the language which is simple and yet ensures the point is made, from a reader’s perspective. The balance that is struck is worth all of it.

“Business Sutra” is not your traditional book on management concepts. Devdutt Pattanaik takes it a step further with every turn of the page and you will realize it only when you read the book. The illustrations only enhance the value of the words and add more clarity to concepts. For instance, when he is explaining the sutra, “Mental Violence is also Violence” with an apt diagram, it sinks deep into the reader’s subconscious and from there on the reader can connect to the sutra with the story and the illustration in a better manner.

Overall, it was definitely a two thumbs up for me when it came down to reading and talking about “Business Sutra”. The approach is clear. The content is well-researched and solid and there is nothing which is out of place. The integration of mythology and the workplace is seamless and brilliantly executed. So for me the book worked well on almost all levels. A great read and again I say, you cannot read it in one stretch and one shouldn’t even try doing that. It should be read in bits and pieces and be savoured the way it is meant to be.

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An Interview with Jerry Pinto

I read “Em and the Big Hoom” and loved it. Loved it so much that I wanted to know more about the writer, Jerry Pinto. So I decided to conduct an E-Interview and here it is. Thanks a lot Jerry for taking the time out and answering my questions.

1. How much did the book take out of you on an emotional level? It must not have been easy writing it. Isn’t it?

I remember a friend once asking me on a lazy day in a chickoo orchard, “Do you ever worry that with all the writing you do, you might write yourself away?” I did not know how to answer that because at one level, it seemed to suggest tahtt here was a mechanistic equation to the whole process of writing. The writer gives, the reader takes. But it does seem as if we talk about giving and taking. If the book ‘takes it’ out of you, what is ‘it’? And where does it go? How does the self reformulate itself? Even if this is not physical, even if it is not mechanistic, it is a source of worry. Where do the words come from? They well up, I suppose, generated by experience, pushed out by the desire to express something, oneself, another self, whatever. They keep coming or at least they have kept coming so far. If I don’t write for a while, I can feel them rushing out when I start again. This is horrible to say, I feel an atavistic fear about saying it. It’s as if I might magick the wellspring away. So okay, let’s start again.

Every book has a cost. Some of the cost is emotional, some of it is physical, some of it is temporal. Every writer pays a cost and s/he must decide what she wants to do with it. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words. Why? I wonder now. I don’t know. I don’t think when I am writing I know whether it’s going to work or not. I know only that I am doing what I construe as my duty: I am putting the words down so that I will have something to work with. I am putting them down now, today, not tomorrow, not after I’ve had a cup of coffee and chatted to a friend, but now, because that’s who I am and what I do. I work with words. And when they have been written, then the sifting, the sorting, the pruning, the culling.

This much is true for all writers who take their metier seriously. We all do this. Some material is easy, some of it is adamantine. But once you’ve chosen your mountain, once you’ve said to yourself, there’s a temple inside this mountain and I will chip away ‘not-temple’ to release it, you cannot go on complaining about the size of the mountain or the refusal of the rats to leave their homes.

2. Jerry as a writer…

I don’t know. Tukaram has a lovely line in which he says that the candle never sees the light. How can it? ‘Tell me good Brutus, can you see your face?’ as Cassius asks and you know how that ended.

3. After close to 4 non-fiction books, how come the idea and inclination to write fictition?

My name appears on fifteen books. Em and the Big Hoom is the first novel. It was also the first book I ever started writing. I started with the desire to tell a story. I have always enjoyed that. I started also with the terrible feeling that I knew nothing about the world, about the machine called Bombay, about the way people did things. “How does one start writing a book?” I ask in a diary I kept at the age of eighteen. “How does one know if this is a book or a play or a poem or a short story?” That’s juvenile hubris. I should have written, “How does one know if this is a book or a play or a poem or a short story or a nothing?”

So here it is. After 20 years and 26 false starts…no…I think I should call them pit stops. You write, you roar along, it’s working well, the words are whistling in your ears. You wait and read and realise dismally, that you’re channelling a writer you love. You’re the clever schoolboy of your worst nightmares, the ones in which you play yourself and realise you are a grotesque synthesis of everything you ever wished to be, you’re a hand puppet, you’re a prosthetic device. But you salvage a scene here and a line there and with those you start again.

4. Jerry, the Bombay boy…

This is a city of small flats. It is a city of hasty decisions, “unsuitable for song as well as sense” as Nissim Ezekiel put it. It is a city of glitter and gloss and glamour and grazes. It is a city in which I have lived for 45 years without air-conditioning or a car. My home had five people in it. Now it has two. I was crowded then. I am crowded now. Javed Akhtar says somewhere that every house has one room less. Is he right? I don’t know, I’ve never had a room to myself. The city was outside, somewhere else; it was other people’s responsibility. Now it comes in and prowls around the room and peers over my shoulder and asks whether I am human enough to try and change it. Imtiaz Dharker has a great line in which she says she collides with the city every day. She’s right; we all do. We collide with the city and we bruise it infinitesimally and we are left wounded and out of our wounds do we build whatever it is we build: novels, homes for the aged, poems, charities, plays, industries, short stories, housing societies, flash fiction, call centres. This novel, the work on Helen, Leela Naidu’s autobiography that I wrote with her, the anthologies on Mumbai and Goa and love poetry written in English, they’re all ways of dealing with the city and they’re all autobiographical.

5. Your literary influences (if any)…

Of course, there are literary influences. Everyone has literary influences. Even if you don’t write, you have literary influences. When you quote the lines of a film song, you’re revealing a literary influence. When a bureaucrat writes “Kindly expedite” because he has seen it on a letter in a file, he is revealing a literary influence. I can’t enumerate my literary influences because I would have to name every single author, every single book, every magazine article, every facebook posting. They’re all there in my head, all fertiliser for what I harvest.

6. How easy or difficult was it to not make the writing too serious or to induce it with humour, as you have?

I don’t do it that way. I don’t think: Hmm, this is getting too deep, now’s the time for some fun. You write it and then you work it and you know when it works and you know when it doesn’t. For me, I believe it comes from the fact that I have been writing for the last 25 years.

7. The book made me stop and think at so many places, about what we perceive to be the ideal family, till the unexpected hits us out of the blue. Also there were times when certain tracks were left mid-way. Was it intentional in the writing process?

The Talmud says it beautifully: “One does not kill a man; one kills a universe”. And so to write about even one man is to leave some things unsaid, some moments unexplored. Those are the spaces that one leaves for the reader to inhabit.

8. Top 10 all-time favourite books…

I wish I could actually draw up a list but every inclusion will mean hundreds of exclusions. I could do a list of what I think are my top all-time favourite books for the person I am right now but the person I am when I read this will regret some and wonder how I could have neglected others. I cannot do this. I really cannot. I am sorry but I cannot.

You can read my review of “Em and The Big Hoom” here

Here is Jerry Pinto reading from the book: